Movie Review: Diary of a Madman (1963)

Synopsis: In 1886, Paris Magistrate Simon Cordier gives audience to a murderer he has sentenced to be executed. When the prisoner, Louis Girot, claims the murders were the result of an unseen entity controlling his body, Cordier doesn't believe him. However, when Cordier accidentally kills Girot in self-defense, he begins hearing a strange, disembodied, voice that eventually compels him to commit murder himself.

Who's in it? The movie stars Vincent Price, Nancy Kovack, Chris Warfield, Elaine Devry and Ian Wolfe.

Review: I came across this movie a few days ago and, mostly because I am a Vincent Price fan, I decided to add it to my library. I had an opportunity to watch the film yesterday evening, while waiting for my daughter to get done at the ice rink and the movie more than met my expectations.

One thing I found I liked about this movie was the way the "Horla" is portrayed. The movie does a fairly decent job of creating doubt about the unseen entity's presence. On one hand, there could be something there controlling Cordier's (Price) every move. On the other hand, the overworked magistrate, guilt-ridden over the accidental death of Girot (Harvey Stephens) and guilt over his long-deceased wife, could have just been having a psychotic break. The full truth wasn't really revealed until toward the end.

I also found I was intrigued by Cordier's murder victim, Odette (Kovack). For one, I wasn't really sure what to think of the model. It was difficult to tell if she had genuine feelings for Cordier or if she was just interested in his money. And, if it was the latter, was that her plan all along? In other words, it was hard to tell if she was a real victim or, if in some way, she had it coming.

Regardless of her motivations, the fact Cordier was in love with her did make her death at his hand all that much more tragic, especially when he learns of the gruesome surprise the Horla left in his attic. It made Cordier's efforts to come clean about her death and save her husband (Warfield) much more believable, even as the voice continued to control him and prevent him from following through. His lack of memory about the incident also made me wonder if there were more bodies hidden on his property.

My only real complaint about this movie is the way the filmmakers decided to tell it in flashback form. Granted, this was a bit of a necessity since the movie is being narrated through passages from his diary, but it did kind of ruin the ending a bit because the film gives a very clear hint about what happened to Cordier from the very start and, just as important, shows the viewer who the survivors were. It wasn't a huge deal, but I think the ending would have been slightly better had the movie saved some of those things as a surprise.

Final Opinion: This is an interesting psychological thriller that has a great performance by both Price and Kovack. I think it is a film that should be on everyone's "must watch" list.

My Grade: A


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